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‘I never went on any leave of absence’: SSMU President Daryanani makes first appearance at Legislative Council since Sept. 23

On Feb. 17, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for a long 5.5 hours, with SSMU president Darshan Daryanani’s return dominating the meeting and discussions about concerns of racism and harassment within SSMU. Councillors voted on several motions, including one regarding a moratorium on ancillary fees, and heard presentations from several student groups, including Student Support, Athletics and Recreation, and Divest McGill, about the different fees and services up for referendum at the SSMU General Assembly

Providing long-awaited transparency, Daryanani addressed the council directly during the meeting, revealing that he was not on a leave of absence, but that he had been suspended by the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) since Sept. 23, 2021. The suspension was set to end on Nov. 5, 2021, but the BoD extended it several times and did not give Daryanani a definitive end date.

“Only on Sunday, February 13, was I informed by the SSMU Board of Directors that all reasons to justify the suspension were unfounded and declared inadmissible,” Daryanani said. “I can assure you that at every step, I fully collaborated with the process, despite the fact that the board frequently violated my rights as a SSMU officer and employee. To be clear, I never went on any leave of absence.”

In the question period that followed, Daryanani said that he was never told the reason behind his suspension, but responded to several inquiries about his time out of office. 

Several student representatives and members of the gallery raised concerns about the lack of transparency on the part of other SSMU members regarding Daryanani’s suspension. Although all of the SSMU executives were present at the meeting, only Daryanani responded to questions regarding his suspension, with the others stating that such information was confidential. 

Engineering representative Hiraku Murakami questioned vice-president (VP) Finance Éric Sader about executives refusing to acknowledge Daryanani’s suspension due to confidentiality. Several other councillors also brought up the topic, with management representative Nathaniel Saad later adding, “There is a fine line between confidentiality and withholding information that students deserve to know.”

As attention turned toward the actions and responses of the SSMU executives, many attendees became emotional when discussing questions about the “toxic” workplace culture for women and gender minorities at the SSMU. After member of the gallery and former SSMU president Bryan Buraga questioned why executives were acting “glib” about such a serious matter, VP Student Life Karla Heisele Cubilla quickly responded, claiming that executives were also “victims of the structure” and calling the question “insulting, almost.”

While all the executives agreed that there are major issues in SSMU’s working culture that need to be addressed, tensions were high and the responses of executives differed greatly in manner. VP University Affairs Claire Downie spoke out broadly about the actions of male employees at SSMU. 

“Men who work at SSMU, men who are in these circles, please consider that you may be part of the problem,” Downie said. “You may not have these egregious examples that some people talk about, but many many men are part of the problem and I want people to be mindful.””

Councillors then addressed five motions concerning the Feb. 21 General Assembly before the session was adjourned: The Motion Regarding Amendment on the Moratorium Ancillaries Fees was not approved; the Motion Regarding the French Accessibility Fee Referendum Question and the Motion Regarding Referendum Question on the Increase of the 2022 SSMU Membership Fee were both approved; and the Motion Regarding Reintroduction of the Facility Improvement Fee Referendum Question and the Motion Regarding Ratification to the Society’s Board Of Directors were both postponed. The remaining motions, including the Motion Regarding Referendum Question on the Creation of a Black Affairs Fee Levy, were postponed to email approval.

Moment of the meeting:

During the announcement period, VP internal Sarah Paulin interrupted president Daryanani with a point of order, claiming that the revelation that he was absent because of suspension was confidential information. Members of the Dias—which includes the Speaker, Speaker On Call, the Parliamentarian, and the Governance Manager—met in a breakout room for 15 minutes to decide on whether to sustain the VP Internal’s point of order, before allowing Daryanani to continue.

Soundbite:

“I just want to bring up one thing: That this is not a clash of McGill Athletics and Divest McGill. McGill Athletics is with the climate movement [….] However, this is a chance for the Student Union to actually stand up and protect the students […] from the administration [….] This is a chance for […] the thousands of students that use McGill Athletics to have a better experience and to be better able to control that experience out of the hands of administration.” —Gallery Member James Mulvaney, on how amending the SSMU moratorium of ancillary fees uplifts McGill Athletics without devaluing Divest McGill’s efforts.

A previous version of this article stated that the Speaker of Council and a couple non-voting members of the council convened in the breakout room. For clarification, it was the members of the Dias (which includes he Speaker, Speaker On Call, the Parliamentarian, and the Governance Manager) who met in the breakout room to decide on a governance question—whether to sustain the VP internal’s point of order.

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